Hillsborough The anniversary
Twenty years. Is it really that long ago? Where exactly did those two decades go? Squandered, in the main, I hear Reds fans say, by Messrs Souness, Evans and Houllier, our chaotic managers, and by various erratic (and worse) board members and owners. The current manager – one European Cup already won, but by glorious default – is trying hard to show he is more than a free-spending complainer and fiddler: a match at last for the fearsome Ferguson. Maybe he really is.
That 20 year stretch means that I must have been a spritely 34 years of age when I set off for Hillsborough for the FA Cup semi-final on April 15, 1989. It was a beautiful spring day, just another Liverpool FA Cup semi-final in what was beginning to feel like it could be a never ending story. The brilliant John Barnes was doing in 1989 just what Peter Thompson had done for Liverpool back in the club’s first FA Cup win in 1965 and what Kevin Keegan had managed in humbling hapless Newcastle United back in 1974. Kenny Dalglish was now the manager after his incomparable playing reign in the late 1970s and early 1980s. But we had Beardsley and Aldridge to rip teams up instead, and even the great Rushie had come back home from Italy to score more goals. What could stop us in 1989? Not Forest, for sure.
Histor y was rewritten l ater, but Hillsborough then was supposedly one of our great football stadiums, a regular FA Cup semi-final venue (though we found out later one with its own recent dangerous record). In Liverpool, the city of Sheffield was also regarded at that time as a pretty decent place to go to watch football. Good pubs, and not a town full of psychopaths (there were towns in the 1980s that could not easily say the same). Wednesday fans, especially, were serious football people, equable lovers of “proper” football and their club was admirably even-keeled, not the near basket case it would later become. It was a small but important part of the tragedy that Hillsborough would later stand for something else, something much darker, rather than a respected historic home for northern football.
Thank God, I am not one of those many Liverpool survivor fans who can only recall that terrible day today with reference to their desperate gasps for breath and the lifeless bodies standing grotesquely crushed around them. I was watching it all, aghast and safe, from the Liverpool stands. But hours afterwards, because I did some work then for the Football Trust, I had the ghoulish job of taking some dignitaries around the crime scene, now littered with twisted metal and discarded shoes and scarves. It was clear that things were not quite right here. The police had told us that fans had forced the infamous gate C to gain illegal entry, but already supporters were gathering to argue the toss: that the police were “liars” and that Reds fans had been let in to clear the streets. “I’ve still got me ticket, mate.” None of the officials took this claim seriously: after all, who could possibly mistrust the police?
As the despicable tale of deceit and official cover-up eventually unravelled, so the rest of the nightmare journey for
A spring day remembered
Two decades on from the Hillsborough disaster John Williams looks back to April 15, 1989 and how the day’s events came to shape the very identity of Liverpool FC